A guide to Cochabamba

10 Jul

*Please note that this guide has been edited to include additional tips learned from living 3 months and counting here.

I came to Cochabamba on the heels of a terribly cold winter in La Paz and after reading The Frugal Traveler’s “All Advice Leads to Cochabamba, Bolivia” article.  The Frugal Traveler, Seth Pugel, mostly talks about food in Cochabamba and though that is reason enough to come to a place, there’s really nothing much else to do here.   It’s a city, the 3rd largest in Bolivia with around pop. 600,000 and 1,000,000 greater area.  My first day in Bolivia was spent in wonder, loving the weather (LA, California-like with year-round avg is 70 F and the temp. stays consistent) and thinking that Cocha looked almost like Texas.  It’s the first city in Bolivia that I’ve seen with good street-signage at every corner and it has modernly wide-streets for cars, very tranquilo compared to the cluster-fuck of minis and micros in La Paz, and just like a town in Texas.  The city is modern, filled with many students from Brazil, because of the med-school here which is top-quality and cheap, and NGOs.  My consequent week here was spent slighty sick, from the pollution trapped by the mountains here.  My laptop gets a little layer of dust from just a few minutes outside in the street.  Daily-living in Cochabamba is also expensive, contrary to what Lonely Planet tells you.  Everything is higher-priced than both La Paz and Sucre and especially as it’s tourist season now, the prices have risen again.  Cochabambinos travel outside more so than people from any other department of Bolivia (also a fair portion of Cochabamba is poor…farming is life here).  I’ve been approached here by kids selling jewelry or shoe-shining more so than any other place in Bolivia.

But the food here is fresh and piled high.  There are many restaurants to try out and it is impossible to order anything that is not enough for 2 or 3 people.  Perfect place for couples to share dishes.  The men here have little stomach pooches and it’s not considered an appearance defect.  Though it is considered one for women, of course, and they watch their weight.

The Lonely Planet (2010 edition) doesn’t have a terribly great or comprehensive list of hotels or restaurants, but you can find a pretty good listing here–it has descriptions from Lonely Planet or other travel guides, but offers a much better list.

The best recommendation I can make is to go to Casablanca (next to Plaza Colon on 25 de Mayo)–it’s a cafe with wifi and very happening amongst Bolivians and gringos.  They also have a fantastic, reasonably-priced menu, where you can find fresh ceviche (raw trout from the river) for 25B or $3.50, lattes (7Bs), irish coffee (20Bs), sandwiches (16Bs), pasta (26Bs), beers (10Bs), etc.

The tourist office on Plaza Cólon (east side, paseo independecia) offers great info and maps.  For cultural offerings, you can pick up a monthly calendar from the cultural office at CBA (Centro Boliviano Americano, 25 de Mayo off Plaza Cólon.)

Trip Details

Taking the Bus from La Paz: Boliviar is the best company, with plush cama seats.  They leave almost every 1 1/2, beginning at 6:30 a.m. and ending at 11 p.m.  The journey is approx 8 hrs, if you take the morning bus, and 7 hrs if you take the night bus.  Cost of a ticket for cama for the 6:30 a.m. bus is 50Bs, and I believe the cost for a cama for the night bus is 90 Bs, semi-cama 70Bs, and normal (not worth it!) 50Bs.  Ask if there are any road-blocks, because when I went, there was a road-block an hr away from Cocha due to cocoa-farmer protests and I had to take another mini  for 20Bs.  The best way to find this out might be to see if other companies are leaving at the same time too.

Pricing Guide:

  1. Taxi:  5B anywhere in the center, anytime of day.  Drivers will try to charge 8-10, but let them drive away.
  2. Minibuses or Buses:  1.50B.  Most of them go toward the center.
  3. Average Hotel:  No European-style hostels here, so the cheapest individual room with shared bath will be 35-45Bs and with private bath is 50Bs.  Try to negotiate “sin factura” (without tax receipt)
  4. Internet:  2-4Bs per hour; places around Plaza Cólon are 3B, around Avenida de las Heroinas is 2.50B.
  5. Average non-street food meal:  30Bs for a shit-ton of food.

Lodging: I’ve only stayed at 2 places:  Residencial Familiar & Hostel Jardin.  Of the two, I prefer Hostel Jardin, b/c it is cleaner with sturdier doors, but though I’ve never stayed at Nawpa, it seems amazing.  I’ve heard that you can negotiate “sin factura.”

  1. Residencial Familiar:  central location, near the main plaza.  35B for a single with shared bathroom and 55 for a single with a private bathroom.  I stayed here a night, though it was slightly creepy, because the doors are only padlocked with a 99cents store lock and the room is tiny, barely wide enough to fit a twin-size bed.   The bathroom was a bit dirty–don’t get me wrong, it was newly-tiled and all, but not cleaned very often.   No internet.
  2. Hostel Jardin: disad would be its location, but still near the center and about 10-min walk to Plaza Colon.  30B for a single with a shared bathroom with breakfast (bread and tea) and 50 for a single with a private bathroom.  The single room comes with two twin beds and smells a bit like cleaning-fluid.  Bathrooms are really clean, but the hot water comes and goes b/c of the electric shower.  No internet.  If you stay more than 10 days, you get a discount to 25B/day.
  3. Hostel Buenos Aires: I didn’t stay here, but it has a great central location, though I’ve heard that it’s a bit busy and noisy.  40B for a single with a shared bathroom and the room looked fairly large with 2 twin-beds.  No internet.  Electric showers.
  4. Nawpa Hostel: Located right in central Cochabamba, with a relaxing colonial courtyard and a vegetarian restaurant.  I heard that because it recently opened, the beds are new.  40 Bs. a night.  No internet.
  5. Homestays: Very worthwhile is the option to stay with a Bolivian family, meals are typically included.  You can inquire at Volunteer Bolivia ($90 for a week, which is the minimum) and at Serve Abroad’s Language School (4525992, Avenida Ayacucho Nº 835 between Teniente Arévalo y Costanera, serveabroad@gmail.com) where it’s $10 a day.

Restaurants: Top-pick for fancy restaurant goes to Caso de Campo—really great and reasonably-priced steak/chicken/fish plates stuffed with food; it’s like your favourite local hole you go to with tons of friends on your birthday; for almuerzo completo goes to Sabor Como Una Piedra; and for night out goes to Vinnopoli’s.  Addresses are listed here.

  1. Yerba Buena: Right across the street from Casablanca, it has a sizable almuerzo completo serving unique, non-Bolivian food for 16B.  When I went, I had a beet soup (tasty, actually), radish-salad, large serving of pasta with a creamy egg and herb sauce, and jello.  Pretty good bar/night-spot as well and good taste in music.
  2. Jacaranda: Not near the city center at all, but it has the reputation of best charque joint in town.   I was told that I couldn’t leave Cochabamba without trying the charque, though it does really just taste like fried beef jerky.  Charque is beef jerky which is dried, then baked in the oven, then fried for the ultimate crispiness.  I got the half-plate at Jacaranda, which comes with at least a pound of dried beef jerky, 2 boiled eggs, and the tastiest choclo that I’ve had so far (oooh the cheese slab was so thick and crumbly).  The half-plate was about a 5-inch high pile, ran 50B and fed me for lunch and dinner and probably another meal if I didn’t have to chuck it out due to a lack of a refridgerator.
  3. La Estancia:  Upscale and pleasant Argentinian steak place.  Portions aren’t of the legendary Cochabamba size, but rather of the normal steak-portion size.  I’ve heard that the salad bar is amazing.  I had a cut of chicken breast fillet (still recovering from poisoning myself with chicken soup) for about 35Bs or so.  You can get those skinny skinny chip-like potato fry crisps here.
  4. Zhou: This place was recommended to me by a couple who’d lived here for 4 years, so I walked out of my way to find this place (fairly far away), and was a tad disappointed.   The food here isn’t the most authentic Asian either and not even a good P.F. Chang imitation.  Needless to say, the couple wasn’t Asian either.  It’s slightly pricey, with sushi (mostly trucha-salmon imported from La Paz.  Part of my disappointment was that I couldn’t find good cuts of fresh surubi, trout or other river-fish sashimi here in Cochabamba.) running 50Bs.  I had a classic soba (30B) but the noodles looked suspiciously like they came out of a Maruchen ramen noodle package.  And I felt slightly sick after the meal.  My conclusion:  La Paz has better sushi.  Go to Ken-Chan, run by the Japanese society, and you will find excellent, more authentic Japanese food.
  5. Wistpiku (sic): A chain of empañadas, but these are the most delicious! Stuffed with chicken or charque and beats a salteña any day.  Get the one al horno, from the oven, for 5.50B.
  6. Casa de Campo: For once, Lonely Planet was right.  This is a large, cheerful, sunny, outdoor and indoor watering hole serving big piles of food.  I ordered the half-platter of pork ribs which came with at least a pound and a half of ribs, fries, broccoli, and salad (pretty good salad) for 37B and still had leftovers.
  7. Buenos Aires: Great airy location right on the Prado, next to Brazilian Coffee, and serves a decent almuerzo complete for 18B (25B on Sunday).  Although the food is presented prettily, the quality is más o menos (quantity is certainly menos), but has the advantage of not being greasy and comes with an open salad bar.  Latté 7B, salads 26B, steak (large portions) 30-40B.  Accepts VISA.
  8. Sole Mio: An Italian joint, whose specialty is pizzas from the oven, and supposedly the best pizza in town.  Gael Garcia Bernal was seen here eating last year when he was filming a movie on location about Cochabamba’s water wars.  Pizza comes out remarkably fast but the service isn’t.  It’s a decent quality, not as good as in the U.S. but better than Eli’s.  Pizzas run about 50B for a medium and 40B for a personal, though watch out for overcharging.
  9. Cristal:  Decent chain of Bolivian restaurants (maybe like the Applebee’s of Cochabamba).  Almuerzo completo for 19B, not including drink which costs 5B.  Very stuffing and very good soups.  The restrooms are also impressively clean considering the amount of traffic that runs through Cristal.
  10. Sabor Como Una Piedra: Excellent upscale but casual restaurant in the Recoleta that offers refined dining at affordable prices (almuerzo complete: 20 Bs).  Their lunch offers 4 well-dressed entree options which always include surubi, chicken, beef or pork and the wait staff is the most professional and attentive I have ever seen in Cochabamba.  Some of the staff are students from the culinary institute.
  11. Miraflores: Local favourite and perhaps a more authentic version of Casa de Campo.  Here is where, supposedly, the Pique Machu was invented.
  12. Vinoppoli’s: Comforting wine bar with broad international palate.  An amazing Spanish omelet with chorizo.
  13. Lai Lai: If it’s the first one you see while entering the Recoleta, never go here.  I hear the second one, further along the Recoleta, is much better.

Wifi Spots: Though there’s plenty of internet cafés here and plenty of cafés, there’s not many cafés with wifi.  The best place to go to is Casa Blanca, off of Plaza Colon.

  1. Casablanca, C. 25 de Mayo N-344, also has sangria for 12B, Latte for 7B.  If you’re sensitive to smoking, there’s a non-smoking section in the back.
  2. Tunari, El Prado, a restaurant with faster connection than Casablanca but very few power outlets.  On the upside, there’s less smoke than Casablanca, but more dust if you sit outside.  My computer got blanketed in a manner of minutes.
  3. Brazilian Coffee, right off the Prado next to Hotel Diplomat, but v.expensive.  Latte for 11B (small teacup).  An alternative if you need to use the wifi is to sit close by at Dumbos or at Wis’upku (sic) and connect long-range. Password currently is a1 b2 c3 d4 e5 (without the spaces)
  4. Burger King, other end of the Prado
  5. Espresso Cafe Bar, Esteban Arce 340 esq Pasaje Catedral, next to Plaza 14 de Septiembre.  Old-fashioned, cute coffee bar where there’s always many old men sitting and reading.
  6. Havanna (CineCenter), Latte for 11Bs, and very good chocolate.


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One Response to “A guide to Cochabamba”

  1. Matthew May 15, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    I’ve stayed at Residencial Familiar and my experience was not as good as yours! Firstly, the prices are higher now – 50 Bolivianos for a single room with shared bathroom. Some friends of mine even had to pay this price for a shared room (dorm). The bathrooms are the most scary though. Both gents bathrooms upstairs have incorrectly wired electric showers so don’t touch the shower head – you will get shocked (as I discovered for myself). The owners seem to be aware that something is wrong and have covered the shower tap with insulation tape to avoid shocking yourself when you turn the tap, but this doesn’t solve the problem once the shower is running and tap inevitably gets wet…
    Also note that this is NOT a hostel! It is a residence so they are very touchy about any noise after 11pm, even if you are having a conversation in your own room – they threatened to call the tourist police!
    I am now staying at Nawpa: 50 Bolivianos for a shared room with private bathroom (incidentally, the shower is correctly wired and I can touch the tap without electric shocks – luxury!). It has a charming garden and a vegetarian buffet lunch at a restaurant inside the square. So pleasant after the horrors of Res Familiar…

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